Letters from Dar es Salaam

Letters from Tanzania

Visit to Japan

Habari za Dar es Salaam

Tanzania Tembea Tembea

Tanzania Mbali Mbali

Small Wonders

Kei FujimotoKei


A few weeks after I came to Tanzania, one of my few Tanzanian friends Maria invited me to her send-off one week before the wedding. It was held in a village called Chalinze, where she is originally from, one and half-hours West of Dar es Salaam. I, together with some of her friends and relatives, arrived in Chalinze in the morning, when all her family members had already started cooking for the party.

Maria told me that she was going to a beauty salon in the village to get her hair done. Two of her cousins with one-year old boy and I decided to join her then. I was curious about what beauty salons would be like in Tanzania! We walked out of the house to the main road where we waited for a daladala (public transportation) to come. We waited and waited getting broiled under the sun…Not even a single daladala coming into our sight, though…After quite a long time, we finally managed to find one and went downtown.

Naturally I believed that Maria had made an appointment just because it was her special day, but I found out she had not when we went into one of the salons. It was full. Then we tried another, full again, another…till we found one salon that would do her hair. The hairdresser and Maria started to talk, and Maria began picking up her stuff, and said, “I am going to the store.” I had no clue as to why she had to go anywhere, and later I found out that customers usually came to the salon with whatever necessary things; wigs, pins, hair cream…for their hair to be done! Since Maria did not have anything prepared beforehand, she had to run to the nearby shop to buy herself the necessary hair cream and a wig to give her hair extra length. She came back, and the hairdresser started putting the cream out of the plastic container all over her hair. Then all of a sudden, Maria stood up and said, “I have to go home! I forgot to put on my dress!” How could this have happened? I laughed so much because she had forgotten such a simple thing, and all of us who were around her did not even think about what she was wearing even though we clearly knew the reason for her to be there at the salon. Off she ran with full cream on her hair! Luckily a friend of hers just passed by on a bicycle and she did not have to run all the way home.

She did not come back, as expected already, for a long time. By the time she finally came back, the hairdresser had started working on someone else’s hair, of course, and Maria had to wait again. I realized it was already passed two and the ceremony was supposed to start at three o’clock. I felt so restless as if it was my own wedding reception even though the bride herself did not seem to worry at all. The hairdresser came back to Maria to put her hair in a special shape and this really took a long time. It looked quite painful as well because of all the strength she put in combing Maria’s hair so that it would be in place as wished. Maria had to bear with it for her special occasion, though. Now the one-year old boy started crying and his mom breastfed him while chatting with other people at the salon. You see, there was not even the slightest mood amongst them to be worried about the time!

 How her hair was done!

Having come from Japan, where punctuality counts a great deal, I could not even bear to be there just waiting for what I did not know how long it would take. I walked around and went into a bar just opposite from the salon. I had thought there I could just have a beer and relax a bit by being a little far away from the salon while being able to see when everything would be done. However even at three o’clock, no one was coming out of the salon. Maria’s cousins came to the bar after a while, with which I felt so relieved that Maria was ready. What happened the next moment was that they ordered beers for themselves! Guess what time Maria’s hair and her make-up was done finally. It was four-thirty. We had to run to the place for the ceremony, but another problem arose; There was no daladala or a taxi to take us to where we were supposed to be! Then Maria came to me smiling, accompanied by an unfamiliar man, to introduce him to me. It turned out to be Maria’s husband…He was not even there at the ceremony when it already passed the starting time. I was so confused, but really, so what? At this point I just had to accept things as they were since there were no other ways but to wait!

Dancing while waiting.

The party finally started 3 hours late. I totally believed that everyone would be tired from waiting for such a long time, but in fact, they cheerfully danced and chatted with everyone else, and no one said a word about the time. I told myself that I needed to get used to the pace here, otherwise, I would remain irritated all the time. I almost started to think that it was Japan that was crazy where everything was absolutely scheduled in every single detail. I remembered that one day in Japan I was hearing an announcement in the evening on a crowded subway, apologizing for the two-minutes delay on the morning of the day…

 Finally on the stage.

Maria’s send-off was the very first experience of serious waiting for me in Tanzania. And recently I had been wondering why those seemingly “patient” people tend to be very rough when it comes down to driving. Seriously, people would not wait even for a minute. The moment they find a small space between cars, they go for it, even in the middle of intersections, causing huge traffic jam. Once they are behind the steering wheel, they are not patient at all. I asked my boss about this who has lived in Tanzania for over twenty years. His explanation made a perfect sense to me: The concept of waiting, waiting in lines, did not exist in Tanzania before. When he was a student here in Dar, students used to wait for a daladala for over 30 minutes. When they knew one had just passed the bus stop, some would walk home, and others would wait because there was no alternative. It is often said that people in Tanzania are very patient, but probably this is not the case. People wait when there are no other options. For Maria’s case, she had to wait because that salon was the only place for her to get her hair done. For us, we had to wait because we were there to celebrate Maria’s marriage. See? Looking at the same thing but from a different angle is certainly eye-opening!

 (April 2005)

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